As on 21.11.2016, a total of 61,626 matters were pending in the Supreme Court. About 38.70 lakh cases were pending in various High Courts as on 31.12.2015. Likewise, 2.70 crore cases were pending in District and Subordinate Courts in India as on 31.12.2015. Thus, approximately, 3.10 crore cases are pending in the judiciary at present. This is huge backlog. This information was provided by the Central Government, Ministry of Law and Justice in a reply dated 25 November 2016 to a question asked in Rajya Sabha by Shri P. Bhattacharya, Member of the Rajya Sabha. The reply was given by Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Law and Justice and Electronics and Information Technology.
The Government further replied that the sanctioned strength of Judges in the Supreme Court is 31 and there are 7 vacancies at present. There are 428 vacancies in the High Courts out of the total sanctioned strength of Judges of 1079 which has been increased from 906 in June 2014. It was also informed that 120 fresh appointments of Judges in the High Courts have been made so far this year. On an average about 80 Judges were being appointed in the High Courts in a year since 1990.
The reply further stated that the sanctioned strength of Judges / Judicial Officers of District and Subordinate Courts has increased from 17,715 at the end of 2012 to 21,320 in June 2016. There were 4,937 vacancies of Judges / Judicial Officers in District and Subordinate Courts as on 30.06.2016.
Following specific question was asked by Shri P. Bhattacharya:
(a) the present number of cases pending in courts across the country vis-a-vis the number of Judges / judicial officers;
(b) whether, as per a recent study of the National Court Management System (NCMS), the number of pending cases in courts is likely to go up to 20 crore; and
(c) if so, the steps taken by Government for judicial reforms and also to improve the Judge-population ratio?
The Government informed that the National Court Management System (NCMS) was constituted in the Supreme Court in May, 2012. The ‘Policy and Action Plan’ document of the National Court Management System has estimated that with the increase in literacy, per capita income and population, the number of new cases filed each year may go upto fifteen (15) crore over the next three decades.
The Supreme Court in its Order dated 1st February, 2012 in the case of Imtiyaz Ahmed versus State of Uttar Pradesh had asked the Law Commission of India to evolve a method for scientific assessment of the number of additional courts to clear the backlog of cases. Pursuant to this Law Commission submitted its 245th Report titled “Arrears and Backlog: Creating Additional Judicial (wo)manpower”. In this report, the Law Commission has observed that filing of cases per capita varies substantially across geographic units as filings are associated with economic and social conditions of the population. As such the Law Commission did not consider the judge population ratio to be a scientific criterion for determining the adequacy of the judge strength in the country. The Law Commission found that in the absence of complete and scientific approach to data collection across various High Courts in the country, the “Rate of Disposal” method to calculate the number of additional judges required to clear the backlog of case as well as to ensure that new backlog is not created, is more pragmatic and useful.
In May, 2014, the Supreme Court asked the State Governments and the High Courts to file their response to the recommendations made by the Law Commission. In August 2014, the Supreme Court asked the National Court Management System Committee (NCMS) to examine the recommendations made by the Law Commission and to furnish their recommendations in this regard. NCMS submitted its report to the Supreme Court in March, 2016. It has, inter-alia, observed that in the long term, the judge strength of the subordinate courts will have to be assessed by a scientific method to determine the total number of “Judicial Hours” required for disposing of the case load of each court. In the interim, this Committee has proposed a “weighted” disposal approach – disposal weighted by the nature and complexity of cases in local conditions. The matter is sub-judice before the Supreme Court.
As per the Government, timely disposal of cases in courts depends on several factors which, inter-alia, include availability of adequate number of judges, supporting court staff and physical infrastructure, complexity of facts involved, nature of evidence, co-operation of stake holders viz. bar, investigation agencies, witnesses and litigants and proper application of rules and procedures.
The Central Government informed that it has provided financial assistance to the tune of Rs. 5,459 crore to the State Governments / UTs since inception of Judicial Infrastructure Scheme in 1993-94. Out of this, an amount of Rs.2,014 crore has been sanctioned since 2014-15. 16,513 courts halls were available for subordinate judiciary against the working strength of 16,070 judges / judicial officers as on 31.12.2015. Further, 2,447 court halls were under construction to take care of increase in the working strength on account of filling up of vacancies.